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Chaparral 2018-2019: 27.2 Reaching Across: Building Bridges with Colleagues

Reaching Across: Building Bridges with Colleagues

by Julie Gamberg and Sandy Somo

In this column, employees of Glendale College with different roles engage in dialogue about their departments / divisions, as well as thoughts about a more student-centered campus. Partners are given the same three questions to ask one another, and the option of additional questions and/or taking a selfie together. If you are interested in participating in this dialogue, please feel free to email Sandy Somo or Julie Gamberg (ssomo@glendale.edu; jgamberg@glendale.edu)
 

Joining us for this issue are Armineh Gourgian in Financial Aid and Richard Kamei, Sociology Professor.

Armineh

How long have you been at GCC, and what do you do here?

Richard

I am in my eighteenth year at GCC, where my main role is to teach sociology courses. I am also currently serving as the head of the Sociology Department, Assistant Chair of the Social Sciences Division, and Chair of the Employee Health and Welfare Committee. In the past, I have also served in different capacities, such as member of the Guild negotiating team, Guild Grievance Officer, Guild Vice President, and Guild President.

Armineh

What do you wish people to know about your division that you think they might not totally understand?

Richard

The Sociology Department is part of the Social Sciences Division. The Sociology Department has relatively recently created an AA-T degree, which is experiencing a rapid increase in the number completers. Our faculty members develop strong relationships with our students and often keep in touch with them years after the students have taken our classes. Often, our students let us know that we have prepared them for the rigors of the sociology courses at the universities that they attend.

I would also like people to know that a degree in Sociology is extremely marketable. Recently, graduate programs such as in medicine and law are looking for students who have taken a non-traditional path to their programs. Sociology is an excellent choice due to the nature of the discipline. A degree in Sociology can also lead one to various careers in areas such as education, research, government, human services, administration, law, business, criminal justice.

Lastly, the courses taught in our department provide the tools that will assist our students to better understand themselves, the world around them, and the relationship between the two. This leads to greater understanding and empathy, which are qualities that our world desperately needs.

Armineh

When you think about our movement toward a more student-centered campus, how can the rest of the campus be more supportive of your division/department?

Richard

I feel fortunate that I have colleagues in various areas such as Student Services, who share a student-centered approach and work closely with our department to optimally serve our students. However, the values and norms that truly reflect a student-centered approach must go beyond the individuals and be institutionalized across all the areas of our college. It is wonderful to see our college working on this but there is so much more we need to do.  The Sociology Department is committed to providing an excellent education for all the students that we serve. At the same time, due to the subject that we study and teach, we understand the serious problem of inequity in our society, in general, and in the institution of education, in particular. Therefore, our department has been dedicating a significant amount of time and resources toward addressing the problems of inequity through focusing our energy in areas such as Open Educational Resources (OER) task force, Cultural Diversity program, Black Minds Matter, Mentoring Men of Color program, Civic Engagement, AB540 Support Committee, Safe Zones training, Student Engagement and Success Summit, to name a few. The faculty members in the Sociology Department are fully committed to playing a significant role in moving our college closer and closer toward a student-centered college. We will continue to collaborate with different areas of the college so that we can effectively serve our students with their concerns, challenges and best interests in mind.

Armineh

What brings you the greatest joy in your profession? (Bonus question!)

Richard

I feel very fortunate to be provided with the opportunity to be of service to our society as an educator. I especially enjoy collaborating with colleagues who are dedicated to student success, and I enjoy watching students succeed and make positive contributions to our society.

Richard

How long have you been at GCC, and what do you do here?

Armineh

I have been at GCC for almost 18 years. Currently, I am a Financial Aid Advisor in the Financial Aid Office. I have been an advisor for over 3 years. Before becoming a Financial Aid Advisor, I held two other positions on the campus. I started my employment at GCC as the Coordinator of the Multicultural and Civic Engagement Center, formerly the SLC. My second position on the campus was at the Welcome Center, formerly the Outreach Office, where I organized Financial Aid Outreach activities while representing GCC in high schools and non-profit organizations in the local communities. Being concerned about student retention, I created a peer-mentoring program called Shadow Day. I coordinated the program for 10 years before becoming a Financial Aid Advisor. For more information about this program, you can contact the Welcome Center. The second mentoring program I was involved in while working in the Outreach Office was a collaborative work between the Multicultural and Civic Engagement Center’s Director, Hoover Zariani, and me, representing the Outreach Office. The program was called SPARK and it provided first year students with mentors who were trained to give freshmen support. For more information about SPARK, contact MCEC. All together, I worked in those two offices for more than 14 years and enjoyed every moment of it. I was always proud to represent GCC in local communities and recruit high school and adult school students to one of the best colleges in Southern California. As a Financial Aid Advisor for the last 3 years, I have been enjoying the challenges that this position represents on a daily basis. I am so fortunate to work in an office that provides its staff with the opportunity to discuss challenging and complex cases in order to resolve conflicts. The Financial Aid staff works very hard to assist students in receiving financial aid based on their eligibility.

Richard

What do you wish people to know about your division that you think they might not totally understand?

Armineh

I am glad to have the opportunity to share some information about Financial Aid office that many people might not understand. Before working in the Financial Aid Office, I always heard rumors that Financial Aid staff are very strict. Once I started working in this office, I totally understood why staff had to be strict. Staff of Financial Aid have to follow Federal and State laws, plus the office policies. We all care for the students and want them to receive financial assistance to reach their educational goal, but we are obligated to follow those rules, and because of that, we come across as strict and sometimes blunt. As Financial Aid Advisors we do analytical and investigative work when processing students' files; when we notice conflicting information, we are responsible for resolving it before approving or disapproving students' financial aid eligibility. This process sometimes can produce an unpleasant outcome, which is not at all desirable for students. Keep in mind that we are the bearers of the undesirable news; therefore, we can be perceived as “non-caring” and sometimes “rude.” If students need more help with their FAFSAs and Dream Act Applications, they can call our office to sign up for a workshop designed for students. We go out of our way to explain financial aid laws and regulations to our students when we meet with them, but in order for them to be empowered, they need to go to our website to become more familiar with financial aid. 

Richard

When you think about our movement toward a more student-centered campus, how can the rest of the campus be more supportive of your division/department?

Armineh

I’d suggest to others on campus who want to support our office to understand we are stewards of state and federal monies and have a duty to both the taxpayer and the student, as well as to the college. Accuracy is very important – submitted documents to our office should be as accurate as possible. Lastly, I’d suggest that outside staff stay current on Financial Aid policy so that they disseminate the best information to students. They are welcome to reach out to our office for clarity and training opportunities. In every class that faculty teach, or any program that staff run, they should encourage students to fill out the FAFSA or the Dream Act Application. Sometimes our students think that CCPG (former BOG) is the only financial aid that exists. They are not very well informed about the types of aid that they might be eligible for. We will be glad to do a presentation about financial aid at your meetings and your classes. These presentations can be as short as 5 minutes and as long as an hour. We need conversations between instructors and other student services across all divisions and departments if we are planning to reach our goal of being a more student-centered campus.

Richard

What do you enjoy about your job? (Bonus question!)

Armineh

I enjoy my job because I can help students to be able to continue their education and reach their life goal. When I help students with special circumstances in their lives, such as a change in their or their parent’s income, I enjoy it because they finally can hope to continue their education. As Financial Aid Advisors, we analyze data and various financial and non-financial documents on a daily basis, to be able to determine student’s financial aid eligibility. This analytical part of the position gives me joy since it is very challenging.

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